Showboating in Shanghai

SHANGHAI—MG is a British sports car maker that dates back to 1924. From the 40’s through the 70’s, it came out with some of the most iconic roadsters of the time. These included the immortal MG TC, TD and TF of the 40’s and 50’s, followed by the MGA, MGB, MGB GT coupe, and MG Midget from the 60’s through the 80’s.

Financial troubles saw the brand being transferred from one new owner to another in the 90’s, with various British companies (and even BMW in 1994) stepping in to try to save the marque with the octagon badge from completely shutting down.

MG’s flagship turbocharged HS, yet to be introduced in the Philippines

It wasn’t until Chinese conglomerate Shanghai Automobile Industry Inc. (SAIC) took over the brand in 2005 that MG experienced a renaissance. In 2011, the company, now called MG Motor, launched a new model, the MG 6, which became the first new-generation MG available in the UK since the MG TF.

The MG range is now sold, among other countries, in Australia, China, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Thailand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom—and now the Philippines (by Chevrolet’s local distributor, The Covenant Car Company.

We first saw the new MG’s—composed of the MG ZS and RX5 crossovers and the MG 6 sports sedan—at the brand’s debut at the Shangri-La at the Fort in October of last year. All three looked good, with both compact crossovers looking highly contemporary and the compact sedan looking very head-turning with its Jaguaresque lines.

The Roewe Marvel X prepares to take on the figure-eight course

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the driving—and where better to put these cars through their paces than in a racetrack. But not just a racetrack. SAIC saw fit to fly out a dozen Philippine motoring journalists to Shanghai to experience not just the three models sold in the Philippines, but other models and even brands in the vast lineup as well. We even visited their Technology and Design Centre in downtown Shanghai as well as their vast, state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Lingang province an hour’s bus ride from Shanghai (more about that in a future story).

From the MG range, we tested the ZS compact crossover, the eMG 6 hybrid compact sedan (hybrid version of our MG 6), and the flagship MG HS SUV.

From MG’s sister Roewe brand, we tested the i5 compact sedan, the Ei5 full-electric vehicle, and the flagship Roewe Marvel X.

The stunning leather-swathed, Bose-equipped cabin of the MG HS flagship SUV

We tested all six cars on both full lapping sessions (using the whole track) and on a specially designed figure-eight course which allowed us to explore the cars’ full acceleration, handling, and braking without the risks involved in the high-speed track on a wet surface (it had rained lightly just before we arrived at the circuit).

Suffice to say that all six cars performed flawlessly throughout our relentless flogging on both courses. Not a single engine or brake disc overheated despite repeated full-throttle and full-braking runs. The handling was also very well sorted out, with none of the hesitation or wallowing that might afflict cars with poorly designed suspension systems.

The interiors of all the cars proved comfortable and ergonomic, featuring easy-to-reach controls and abundant storage areas. Most of them sported touchscreen infotainment systems with Apple CarPlay.

The engines, too, were impressively refined, with zero coarseness and dare I say it, practically similar noise/vibration/harshness (NVH) characteristics as their rivals from Japan and Korea. Chinese carmakers have really achieved a lot in an astonishingly short time—especially in hybrids and full-electric vehicles (MG and Roewe mother company SAIC sells more full EV’s than Tesla).

Yet another telling point was the impressively high interior fit and finish as well as the world-class ergonomics. All the cars, from the affordable ZS (it starts at P818,888 in the Philippines) to the flagship HS (not yet available in our country) exhibited superb build quality. The soft-touch materials used in the dashboard, the feel of the genuine fine-grain (or synthetic microfibre) leather on the steering wheel and on the seats, the solid clicks of the assorted buttons and switch gear—all underscored the undoubtedly immense work that went behind these vehicles. You’d see it in the confidence of using unconventional colors in the leather interiors—reds and caramels you’d otherwise see on a Porsche or Audi or Lexus. Some of the models even boasted Bose audio systems.   

TheMGZSis powered by a 1.5-liter engine with 114hp and 150Nm of torque. It boasts a reversing camera, Cornering Brake Control, Electronic Brake Assist, Electronic Brake Distribution, Hill Start Assist, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, and a Traction Control System. It quickly became the bestseller in its class in Thailand.

 And I haven’t even started talking about exterior styling. The MG’s are homeruns, even if the compelling styling reminds me of Mazda or Jaguar in the bold “London Eye” headlamps and the shape of the grille and Mercedes-Benz in the very pretty “Stardust” mesh grille pattern. The overall look is very mature and far from the contrived or lookalike styling of some of the earlier Chinese cars that entered the Philippine market.   

The models from Roewe, on the other hand, sport an equally distinctive grille design, this time a tad reminiscent of Volkswagen’s horizontal chrome trim but applied on a much bigger grille shape that equals Audi’s hood-to-bottom-edge-of-bumper air intakes. 

The two brands don’t necessarily create an all-new look or style, but there is no denying that their exteriors have what it takes to stand out in a crowded market.

A trio of MG’s (ZS, HS, eMG 6)

Solid, worry-free after-sales program for Philippine buyers

MG owners should have easy access to aftersales services, even as the dealer network is established, to ensure that all their needs are met. A string of independent, MG Philippines-accredited service outlets will be made readily accessible for MG owners, while a “Mobile Garage” service caravan, which comes online this January, will offer regular preventive maintenance servicing in the convenience of your garage.

MG Philippines is also implementing a host of other innovative service platforms including “One-Hour Max and Go,” which refers to a speedy, one-hour basic maintenance service procedure; a customer care hotline that is available 24/7; “MG HERO Services,” which offers 24/7 roadside assistance; and “Mobile Gadget,” which allows users to pair their MG to a proprietary smartphone app so that they can closely monitor their car’s running stats, and allow them to schedule an appointment online from the convenience of their phone for periodic maintenance. And on top of that, and every brand new MG car will come with a 5-year or 100,000-km warranty.

With aggressive pricing, compelling looks, impressive build quality, and solid performance, these Chinese-made cars should make more than a sizable dent in the Philippine car industry. Watch this space. 

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